You are here: Home Publications Of the body and the hands: patterned iconicity for semantic categories

Of the body and the hands: patterned iconicity for semantic categories

Hwang, S.-O., Tomita, N., Morgan, H., Ergin, R., İlkbaşaran, D., Seegers, S., Lepic, R., & Padden, C. (2016). Of the body and the hands: patterned iconicity for semantic categories. Language and Cognition, 9(4), 573-602. doi:10.1017/langcog.2016.28.
This paper examines how gesturers and signers use their bodies to express concepts such as instrumentality and humanness. Comparing across eight sign languages (American, Japanese, German, Israeli, and Kenyan Sign Languages, Ha Noi Sign Language of Vietnam, Central Taurus Sign Language of Turkey, and Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language of Israel) and the gestures of American non-signers, we find recurring patterns for naming entities in three semantic categories (tools, animals, and fruits & vegetables). These recurring patterns are captured in a classification system that identifies iconic strategies based on how the body is used together with the hands. Across all groups, tools are named with manipulation forms, where the head and torso represent those of a human agent. Animals tend to be identified with personification forms, where the body serves as a map for a comparable non-human body. Fruits & vegetables tend to be identified with object forms, where the hands act independently from the rest of the body to represent static features of the referent. We argue that these iconic patterns are rooted in using the body for communication, and provide a basis for understanding how meaningful communication emerges quickly in gesture and persists in emergent and established sign languages.
About MPI

This is the MPI

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.


Street address
Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:   +31-24-3521911
Fax:        +31-24-3521213

Public Outreach Officer
Charlotte Horn